Cellesce is partnering with world-leading researchers at Cardiff University in an Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency and NC3Rs funded project to test the use of bioreactor and bioprocessing in the culture of organoids to enable market-wide drug screening. Cellesce, led by Dr Marianne Ellis, will be using its biochemical engineering expertise to develop a bioreactor and associated bioprocess to replace the current manual culture procedure. Professor Trevor Dale from Cardiff University brings the organoid culture expertise to the project.

Organoids are an emerging field of biology that looks set to provide a new paradigm for drug discovery technologies. The emergence of an active UK organoid network of academic groups (including centres in Cardiff, Bath, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Glasgow, Southhampton and Belfast) underpins an opportunity for the UK to position itself at the forefront of drug discovery technology. Organoid models are emerging as systems that can more accurately predict drug responses during drug development as well as allowing personalised ‘stratified’ healthcare by providing matching tumour-tumour variations to therapeutic combinations; this will also lead to a reduction in the need for animal testing.

3D cultures have been developed from a number of different tumour types, however the team will focus initially on colorectal cancer. This particular tumour type is the third biggest cause of cancer mortality in the UK with approximately 5,000 new cases per year in Wales alone. The successful development of the approach will allow over treatment, under treatment, novel therapies and combinations of therapy to be addressed with a patient-relevant in vitro culture model. Ultimately the team aims to expand this platform to other tumour types.

There is an opportunity to provide the drug discovery industry with more reliable, accurate and cost effective models for screening new drug compounds in comparison with current in vitro/in vivo models based on cancer cell lines. There is enormous interest in the emerging technology from within the pharmaceutical industry and a Principal Scientist from Merck Serono will be on the steering group for this project. The primary interest in the Pharma sector is based on the better predictive value of the emerging models. This translates into reduced rates of false positive and negative hits early in the drug screening for efficacy. The science for the organoid models is well established in Professor Dale’s lab at Cardiff University so the aim within the timeframe of the project is to analyse the feasibility of a process to scale up organoid models to move from a bench-scale operation to support their deployment industry-wide.

Currently the global drug discovery market is valued at $13bn. However, 95% of medicines studied in humans fail to be both effective and safe. This lengthy and costly process and regulatory procedures means that it costs an estimated $350m to take a drug to market. Furthermore, animal testing is an essential but costly and limited (in accuracy) part of this pathway, however by using organoid models, safety and efficacy can be better analysed so refining the group of molecules taken forward and thereby reducing both the use of animals and costs.

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Cardiff University
The Cardiff School of Biosciences is one of the largest bioscience departments in the UK with over 100 academic staff, 150 research staff, more than 160 postgraduates and 2,000 undergraduate students. Supported by state-of-the-art facilities, its topical courses and cutting-edge research spans the full range of the Life Sciences from whole (eco) systems to molecular biology.

In the authoritative 2014 Annual World University Ranking (based on research strength and performance) compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University (http://www.shanghairanking.com/FIELDLIFE2014.html), Life Sciences at Cardiff University is in the top 100 worldwide and in the top 10 in the UK.

Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency
Innovate UK is the new name for the Technology Strategy Board – the UK’s innovation agency. Taking a new idea to market is a challenge. Innovate UK funds, supports and connects innovative businesses through a unique mix of people and programmes to accelerate sustainable economic growth. For further information visit: www.innovateuk.org